London Lantern

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John Fisher: Writers' Rooms III at Francis Kyle Gallery

10/02/2008, By

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For his third series of Writers' Rooms, John Fisher has been working over the past two years in four countries, refining his response to the character of houses which once were homes of some of his favourite writers and composers. Often drawn first to the working desks, studies or libraries of his subjects, he was also attracted sometimes by other areas such as bedrooms, which may have nurtured dreams and musings, as well as drawing- and dining-rooms where echoes may still be caught of conversation among family and friends.

Visiting the Finca Vigía at San Francisco de Paula in Cuba where Ernest Hemingway lived for some twenty years, Fisher found evidence in the arrangement of furniture of the American writer’s distinctive approach to composition – passages of description to be written longhand, with a typewriter reserved for dialogue only – with working space spread across several rooms, many of them boasting Hemingway’s cherished hunting trophies.

At Tuusula in rural Finland, where Jean Sibelius commissioned the architect Sonck to build the house he was to occupy for more than fifty years, it was the atmosphere of sustained, palpable calm which impressed the artist, recalling the silence the composer is known to have imposed on his household while working.

If one country continues to dominate Fisher’s pantheon of writers, this is without question Russia. ‘Iconic’ may be the only word that can do justice to the impact of Alexander Pushkin’s writing room in his elegant, last apartment in St. Petersburg, an inspiration for so many later writers from Dostoevsky to Tolstoy, working in many genres to develop what they saw to be his legacy.

In the Vladimirsky District of St. Petersburg, the setting for many of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s stories and novels, the author’s modest apartment seemed to the artist filled still with his restless energy, expended regularly in all-night bouts of writing punctuated during the day by meetings with students and other callers anxious for his advice. Its cramped simplicity contrasts strongly with the spacious home of another highly productive writer, Maxim Gorky, who moved into the grand Ryabuschinsky Mansion in Moscow on his triumphant return from Faschist Italy in 1931. The house still contains much of the previous owner’s collection of Far Eastern art, whose opulence provided a stimulating background for Gorky’s vast output of plays, literature and journalism, much of it taking shape like some massive military exercise at his imposing writing desk.

For an earlier series of Writers’c Rooms, John Fisher visited the estate of Leo Tolstoy at Yasnaya Polana. Now he has been staying at the writer’s winter home in Moscow, full of reminders of his simple lifestyle and family life where children played so important a part. The Russian contribution to Fisher’s new series is completed with subjects observed in the homes of two composers. At Klin, north-west of Moscow, Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky led a gregarious life, in theory seeking quiet away from the city but in practice entertaining on a grand scale. Equally sociable, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov took pleasure in impromptu gatherings in his Moscow apartment, which also provided a regular venue for Friday evening concerts in the music room.

In his home country John Fisher has painted in the house on Hampstead Heath occupied by John Keats for two years only – but two of his happiest in so short a life - where the rooms seemed to resonate gently with the fragile appeal of the poet’s personality, typically lingering for instance by a window to glimpse Fanny Brawne, with whom he shared a garden.

Probably the most flamboyant writer’s home to attract John Fisher in the new series has been Abbotsford, Walter Scott’s baronial castle at Melrose. In the library there is a double-sided desk designed to enable Scott to work in his characteristically headlong manner on two books at a time.

For the last groups of works in the exhibition, painted at the Brontë family parsonage at Haworth in West Yorkshire, Fisher has chosen to digress, untypically, from his focus on interiors subjects only, as the surrounding countryside seemed to play so large a part in the personality of the three writing sisters (Anne sometimes took her stool on to the moor to write in the open), while every room in the isolated parsonage seemed to vibrate still with their intense productivity.

18th March to 17th April
Francis Kyle Gallery
9 Maddox Street
London W1S 2QE
+44 (0)20 7499 6870
Monday to Friday: 10 am to 6 pm
Saturday: 11 am - 5 pm

Image 1 - The twin desk, Rimsky-Korsakov's house
Image 2 - Pushkin's library
Image 3 - A garden view, Keat's house
Image 4 - The Bronte dining room

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